I have been in school either as a student or a teacher since I was five and, if you figure out my age, you’ll realize that’s a ridiculously long time. Like I tell everyone, I must really like school or I wouldn’t still be there. Contrary to most people, the “years” in my life begin in August and end in June. The January to December calendar idea doesn’t really exist in my mind. So I love the fact that the French have a special name for our traditional and highly marketed Back-to-School time of the year. For the French this also refers to going back to work as many French citizens go on holiday for most, if not all, of the month of August. La Rentrée, as they call it, applies to the whole country in September not just teachers and students. I think this is pretty cool and truly quite chic. Apparently, the expression “À la Rentrée” is exchanged in the same manner one might say, “Have a nice vacation”. It serves to convey good wishes to a friend as he/she returns to school or work. While I have never experienced this myself, I imagine this to be a much more universally positive concept than it is in the U.S. where children dread it and parents breathe a sigh of relief.
When French children return to school, they have many new things to look forward to — teachers, books, lessons, and something that disappeared from our schools many years ago — lunch menus that include varied and appetizing foods planned months in advance by the school cafeteria staff and approved by a dietician. Wow! I bet most of the people reading this blog are not old enough to even remember a vestige of this when they were in school. At least in my state of California, cafeterias have become nonexistent along with the people who used to prepare fresh food and serve it on trays. These days, my students hang out around the open-air spaces outside our classrooms, often sitting on the cement or AstroTurf while hurriedly munching on junk food from home or an odd variety of items contained in a small plastic-covered box they have paid for from a catering service while glued to YouTube videos on their iPads very little personal interaction. Yes, I teach at a rather privileged school to say the least, but I have also worked on the “other side” and it didn’t look much different. It’s no wonder celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, started a campaign to revamp American school lunches known as his Food Revolution. If you’d like a taste (pardon the pun) of French school lunches, check out this article written by Rebeca Plantier, CEO and co-founder of Fit to Inspire. As you will see, it’s not just about the freshness and variety of the food, but also the atmosphere in which students partake of their meals as well as the exercise they regularly get. Like the Rebeca says, it puts us to shame. We should take a lesson!
So it is that I must blame my own “Rentrée” for such a long time between posts. Not only has my blog suffered from neglect but so have my French studies. However, now that things have settled into a fairly good routine, I am ready to get back to school myself. I just wish I could enjoy some of those French school lunches in the process.